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Nick Slanda of NLS Outdoor Services speak on Lawn Guru, an Ann Arbor based startup that makes it easier for customers to get their lawns mowed on demand.

The Ann Arbor-based startup is making it easier for Americans to get their lawns mowed and driveways plowed on demand

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Royal Oak

In less than 15 minutes, Nick Slanda and his partner Joe Cleland finished cutting, edging and trimming the front and backyard of a Royal Oak home. They never talked to the homeowner or the 23 other homeowners who requested their lawn-cutting service last week.

And they didn’t need to.

Slanda, CEO of the lawn care service NLS Outdoor Services, picked up the jobs using the smartphone app LawnGuru. With a few taps, the app allows residents to request a lawn cut and have it done within 48 hours, no different than ordering up an Uber with blades. While LawnGuru is meant to provide a quick and easy service for homeowners, Slanda attests it’s a revenue generator for lawn care providers.

“(LawnGuru) pretty much saved my business because I went from having, like, 15 customers a week to 60 customers a week,” said Slanda, who launched his business as a side gig last year and started using the app in July to service Oakland and Macomb counties. “It’s been incredible for me.”

The genesis for the app goes back to friends Skye Durrant and Brandon Bertrang, who made a few extra bucks in high school by mowing South Lyon lawns. Looking at customers’ needs, they realized the service provided by lawn mowing businesses just wasn’t, well, cutting it.

“We saw a lot of inefficiencies in the way that other businesses were operating, and we saw an opportunity to improve other local service providers and also deliver a better experience to customers,” said Durrant, 29.

After Durrant graduated from the University of Colorado-Boulder, and Bertrang from Michigan State University, the two created an iOS app with the help of then-University of Michigan student Jacob Torrence. In May 2015, they launched a beta version of LawnGuru in 12 Southeast Michigan ZIP codes.

Over the last two years, they’ve expanded to 200 Michigan ZIP codes and six other markets nationwide. They also won $25,000 through the 2015 Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition and secured $1 million in seed funding last year.

Considering all the Googling, calling and emailing homeowners could do, Durrant said, “it’s probably the easiest way to find someone to come out and mow your lawn.”

Uber and Lyft users may find the app familiar. To request a cut, you enter your address and trace an outline of your property to calculate the size of your lawn in square feet. Prices are based on size, with the average Metro Detroit lawn around $35, and customers pay via their phone.

Users can sign up for a weekly, biweekly or on-demand service that guarantees a lawn cut within 48 hours. When a provider is on the way, customers receive a text message.

That way, Durrant said, “you don’t get caught off-guard, and they don't get caught off-guard with, say, a dog out in the yard or a sprinkler system on.”

Headquartered in Ann Arbor, LawnGuru has partnered with about 200 lawn and landscape businesses as providers in Michigan. Each undergoes a vetting process and must have commercial grade equipment, general liability insurance and pass a background check. The average provider earns about $750 a week on top of their regular routes.

That’s the case for Slanda, who said he typically earns $700 a week using the app, and it generates 60 percent of his customers. The fact that LawnGuru handles all customer interfacing (meaning, no time-consuming calls or emails) is a bonus.

“All I do is I go on my phone. A job pops up. I decide whether or not I want it. If I want it, I take it. If I don’t, I don’t have to,” said Slanda, a 36-year-old Birmingham firefighter who works with Cleland, a Detroit firefighter.

Of LawnGuru’s 20,000 customers, about 8,000 reside in Michigan — the largest of the company’s seven markets. Yet Atlanta, where LawnGuru launched in March, is quickly catching up.

“Atlanta is our fastest-growing market and will probably outgrow Michigan within the next year,” Durrant said.

Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Philadelphia and the Washington D.C./Baltimore area also all launched in the last three months, and the company hopes to be in 20 total markets next year.

One of the challenges is getting providers to lawns fast enough. A common gripe expressed on LawnGuru’s Facebook page is that can take a week or two before a mower shows up.

Durrant is well aware of the issue in the new markets.

“There's always a chicken and the egg problem where you are trying to balance your supply and demand,” said Durrant, adding timing is no longer a problem in Michigan.

“If you were to place a request today, your job would probably be picked up within a minute, and depending on the weather, it would be serviced within 48 hours (unless it rains).”

Redford Township resident Ian Kazy, 26, started using the app last March and had his lawn cut bimonthly through the fall. Other than a mower knocking over a lamp post — which he said was “ugly” and needed to come down anyway — he hasn’t run into issues.

“It’s a time-saver,” he said. “It took the inconvenience of having to go find your own serviceman out of it, and they’re doing the legwork for you.”

Kazy, a construction company manager, used to mow his lawn himself and said the $30 per cut is money well spent.

“It’s nice just to come home and see it done,” he said.

Besides the convenience, Durrant said the service can lead to hundreds of dollars in savings over a season. But it’s not that their rates are cheaper.

“Where the savings really kick in is through the control,” said Durrant, explaining that recurring users can opt to skip or pause a cut they don’t need, especially during dry seasons.

Michigan users also have access to snow plowers in the winter, and LawnGuru plans to expand that service to Chicago and Cleveland this year.

Ann Arbor SPARK, an organization that supports early-stage technology companies, offered resources to the LawnGuru founders when they started two years ago.

Bill Mayer, SPARK vice president of entrepreneurial services, has since watched the app’s evolution and said he thinks it has the potential to “really disrupt” the lawn care and snow removal industries.

“It’s a good example of layering technology on top of an industry we already know a lot about and making it better and easier for the contractors and making it better and easier for the customers of those contractors,” Mayer said. “It’s really just making the marketplace more efficient.”

Looking ahead, the team of 15 is focused on improving Americans’ snow removal and lawn care experiences. Though Durrant admitted he hasn’t cut a lawn since 2015.

Does he miss it?

“Eh, parts of it,” he said. “Not all of it.”

ssteinberg@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2156

Twitter: @Steph_Steinberg

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